Mille Alba 2012

And finally the time to ride this came around. Not really the best time for me, having had 4 weeks off the bike due to a knee injury and a honeymoon, I managed to get in 130 miles the week before and then a couple of short commutes in the run up to keep the legs turning over but nowhere near the miles I’d planned.

Just for reference, the official GPX routes are:

Leg 1 :
Leg 2 :
Leg 3 :
Leg 4 :

The drive up to Inverkeithing from Nottingham on Thuirsday wasn’t the most inspiring or relaxing way to start this enterprise. Horrendous weather all the way up the A1(M) didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but did reassure me that lugging a full 3-ply mountain Gore-tex jackets as a backup to my normal lightweight shell was a good idea. With the traffic and what-not, I didn’t get to the Scout centre till about half 7. I grabbed my bunk in the dorm, where all that was left was upper bunks. Picked up the paperwork, medal and jersey (so no pressure there to finish it) and settled down with a couple of plates of pasta bake to carbo load before an early night. Thank the $DEITY that I bought ear plugs and an eye-mask.

Rolled out my bunk at 6 to start getting everything ready for the 7am start. Discovered a missing nut on a rear mudguard stay, but after the fun on the Brevet Cymru I had a spare so sorted that before the off. Bang on 7am we headed off out for the first leg:

Mille Alba Leg 1a Elevation graph

Mille Alba Leg 1a Elevation graph


Nice rolling start, mainly in a largish group to the first control at 32km. Then some more rolling through the drizzle as we headed along the side of the Tay estuary. Lots of nasty wash off on the road in places, but luckily everyone was good with shouts for gravel and I haven’t heard of anyone coming a cropper. Got caught by a camera here, though not at my best:


Me on Mille Alba, taken by David Martin
Me on Mille Alba, taken by David Martin

I don’t believe that I felt as bad as that photo makes me look, though combined with some of the later ones as well I’m starting to get the impression that I’m probably not the most stylish looking rider on a bike, thinking more Bag o’ spuds.

Got to Newport-On-Tay and thundered across the Tay road bridge. Was a bit strange with the cyclepath running straight down the central reservation between the carriageways. Got the to far end and had to use the lift to get down, I got confused about which doors were the one that shut so someone else had to point it out. Went for a nice tour along the back of Dundee docks to find the way out of town, and started ascending

The first proper control hove into view at Forfar after a quick circuit of the one way system. Angus CC were manning the control and doing a stunning job. Hot soup followed by jacket spud with cheese+beans did the job, and the tea pot seemed to be in continuous circulation. Stocked up with some cereal bars and banana for the next leg from the ample supplies.

From here it was upward towards Cairn O Mount, that rather obvious spike in the elevation graph above at about 150km. This was a nice wake up call. Had to stop after the first major section to take off wet weather kit and helmet as I was overheating. At this point I discovered that somehow the retaining pins for my front brake blocks had gone AWOL!!! Luckily braking forces them against the stops, and I’d noticed when I’d applied the front brake and leant backwards pulling them the wrong way. Not an amazing discovery on a ride this hilly (what goes up slow, comes down fast), neither was discovering that the spare packs of blocks and pins were 100 miles away at base rather than in my Barley. Decided the best course of action was to get over the top and see if I could find anything at the next control in Banchory. Finished the climb to discover a stash of Haribo kindly left by the organise, and then got ready for a descent only using the rear brake.

Luckily Banchory has a nice helpful bike shop, Banchory Cycles who sorted me out. Now started the long climb up Glen Shee. 50 miles of continuosly uphill gradient! First stop off was Braemar where a small curry/pizza takeaway was awash with Audaxers filling up on the necessary lard for the climb. The braver riders were having a curry or Jalfrezi Pizza, I played it safe with fish and chips.

To stop the Garmin dying again at the 320km mark I reset it here, so it’s time for another elevation graph:

Mille Alba Leg 1 section b Elevation graph
Mille Alba Leg 1 section b Elevation graph

Leaving Braemar it was straight back into the climb as it rose up to the Ski station. But once over the top we had a fast downill section all the way to Perth 40 miles away. When I say fast, moving average from Braemar to top of climb was ~16kph, and that rose up to 24.2kph all the way to Perth!. Another takeaway control in Perth (see Audaxing is good for your health, it’s just the enforced diet that isn’t). Not sure what went on with the graph as I don’t remember descending to 200m below sea level.

Yet more rolling road back to base. We joined up with the route out at a roundabout, the small grupetto I was in kept gong but I did hear of some groups starting a second loop before they realised. Back to Fordell and the helpers made sure we were fed and watered (including beer if wanted!) before retiring to bed.

6:20 alarm call for a 7am depart on day 2. Made an attack on the mountain of breakfast stuffs on offer, including the first of many cheese and mushroom omlettes. Out the door for 07:10 so not too bad there.

Mille Alba Leg 2 section A elevation graph
Mille Alba Leg 2 section A elevation graph

A very windy ride across the Forth road bridge started off this stage. Then a slightly confusing route through Edinburgh and down to the shoreline before escaping through Musselbrugh and up onto the hills. Quite a bit of flooding along these roads, got more blase about riding through as the route went on. Stopped for a 2nd breakfast in Glifford before the main climb kicked in. Some tought 17% climbs and we were on the tops in sunshine. A fast run down into Berwick and then we turned.

And so did the ride. A rolling road straight to Galashiels into a headwind. At this point I gave in, put the headphones in and got through the section with some loud rousing tunes to turn the pedals over to. Not helped by having my only 2 route finding errors on this section. 1 meant about 2 miles climb backup a hill, and the other I worked around by TTing (for a certain value of TT) along a main A road. Galashiels marked the halfway point at 532km. Another manned control providing all the home comforts and crewed by Audaxers who knew exactly what was needed and could cope with people barely coherent.


Mille Alba Leg 2 Section b elevation graph
Mille Alba Leg 2 Section b elevation graph

Unfortunately we kept the same heading as we left Galashiels, so we got to enjoy the wind a bit more. Yay. Along the banks of St Mary’s Lock till I got to Cappercleuch where I was too late to grab a tea from the village fete. Turned right ready for a large climb and ran into another group so we ‘teamed’ up for the next hilly section past the reservoirs. Quick info control where we got eaten by Midges while we found a weight limit and then to Biggar for a sit down and food. First chip shop I’ve been in that hasn’t got any chips, so settled for just a piece of fish. Looked like it would be quite a lonely place to control after we left as the chippy had appeared to be the only place open, and that locked up as we departed.

Not much climbing and we were soon up on high looking at the approaching lights of Edinburgh, before we dropped down to see them disappear and then come back up. Chain decided to come off on this section so I got split from the group while I faffed with it, but caught them on the descent into Edinburgh. This was good fun with decent gradients on clear roads with good sightlines even at nearly midnight. A bit of threading through industrial estates and we were back on the Forth bridge. Soon back to base where the helpers sorted out all the food. Back a bit later than planned thanks to the wind, but still allowing for a couple of hours sleep.

Getting out of the top bunk 3 hours later was not a fun way to start the morning. Body and Soul needed some hard loving to get them moving with anything like humanity.

Mille Alba Leg 3 Elevation chart
Mille Alba Leg 3 Elevation chart


Thankfully we started off gently along the Firth of Forth with a partial circuit of the Stirling ring road. Somewhere on the run in to Stirling I’d started hearing a louder than usual creaking noise from my left shoe, but had decided to ignore it, now looking down I noticed that there were rather more splines showing on the BB spindle than I’d like to see. Thankfully a hollowtech can be sorted with a couple of allen keys, though a tired audaxer finds it hard to remember to undo ALL the bolts before pushing the arm back on so resorts to bracing the crank against a lamp post and giving it a kicking!

Eventually it was all sorted before a steady climb on the road to Comrie I’d been told this was one of the wonders of Scottish audaxing, and while it was very pretty another unrelenting headwind didn’t instill it into my good books. The descent into Comrie was good fun though, and food at the cafe reset the spirits. Bit more of a windy struggle along the banks of Loch Earn and the we turned up Glen Ogle. This section of the ride I knew from visits without the bike, so I’d always fancied a go up this nicely graded climb, unfortunately I forgot about the 200km to go after the climb but had fun on the way up. And then more fun on the long swoop down to Killin. Soon came the bottom of the climb up to Ben Lawers, which looks innocent enough:

Ben Lawers climb start
Ben Lawers climb start


But it soon rears up through the woods. And then keeps going once the trees run out. It’s a long steep drag up to the reservoir, it’s the obvious spike on the graph at about 80 miles. This climb didn’t do much for my “sack of spuds on a bike” look either:

Me Climbing Bew Lawers by MartinB
Me Climbing Bew Lawers by MartinB

But I made it up the top. Had to have a break as by now the Hot Foot was getting so bad I needed a foot rub. Descent down the otherside was phenomenal, though the gravel and sudden drop on one side did keep the speed to sensible numbers.  A regroup and refuel took place at the Bridge of Balgie Post Office/Cafe, where we were treated to a wonderful cyclists special of soup and cream tea, marvellous.

Rolled out along the beautiful Glen Lyon and a bit of a mainish road bash to Aberfeldy. The sun decided to make up for it’s absence over the last couple of days by coming through strong and hot, and the fora decided to join in with a pollen chorus which meant a quick attack of hayfever for me. Stopped for starters in a rather nice eatery in Aberfeldy before starting on the climb out (the nice steep line at about 100 miles). Then a nice rolling road to St Davids, only one slight navigation error along here as we were chatting and enjoying the road and sailed past a turn. Amazingly we’d actually gone wrong uphill, so retracing was painless. Though I needed another stop to sort my feet out.

St David’s was an oasis of an AUK run control. Shoes were barred, so I got plenty of rest and air for my feet. The food came hot and fast. Am now a convert to Macaroni Pies, just need to find somewhere in nottingham that makes them and I’ll be set. As well there was a mechanic service available for those little niggles, unfortunately internal frame motors weren’t available.

A few more hills and a fast run in through the outskirts of Dunfermline and we were back at Fordell. Finished? Nope, there was just the matter of a small 70km finishing loop to get to official BRM distance. Thinking it was better to MTFU and GiD, after another omlette and tea it was back out into the cold night for a final loop:

Mille Alba Leg 4 Elevation chart
Mille Alba Leg 4 Elevation chart

At first this felt like a bit of sadism on the part of the Org, but once we were out of the towns and up on the tops it was a delight (though I may have questioned someone’s parentage on that sharp spike just before Falkland). Dawn came as I hit 25 miles so I rode the rest in the daylight. Looking back it would have been a nice loop to have ridden in the daylight, but I was worried about loosing time or puncture eating into margins if I’d left it till then. I managed a sudden spurt on the last section as I realised that quite pointlessly I could finish in under 70 hours. And as that seemed to make my legs feel lighter, that’s just what I did.

Finished just before 5am on the Monday morning. And celebrated with a bottle of beer and a fried egg sandwish, and a stagger to bed.

Stats for the ride:

Official distance – 1017km
Distance Ridden – 1042km
Total time taken – 69:53
Time Riding – 46:43
Overall average speed (official/Ridden) – 15.3/14.9 kph
Moving average speed (official/Ridden) – 21.75/22.3 kph

I managed about 7 hours sleep over the weekend at fordell, with most of the rest of the time not moving being spent eating or staring into space at controls.

This was an excellent introduction to the 1000km distance, and also to cycling to scotland. A lot of this was down to the huge amount of effort put in by the organiser and the 60+ helpers he had organised to look after us on the way round.

I learnt plenty over the weekend, and have some ideas on how to improve on my distance riding, but those can come in another post.

The only people who don’t get a thank you are the midges, who despite only coming out to play for about half an hour over the weekend did this little number on my legs:

My legs post Mille Alba, bloody midges
My legs post Mille Alba, bloody midges

3 comments on “Mille Alba 2012Add yours →

  1. Hi there
    just a quick comment on your blog. I am the Manager of the Tay Road Bridge and noted your comments about your trip across the bridge.

    The central walkway is a shared use facility for pedestrians and cyclists and we are having issues with cyclists not giving sufficient warning/courtesy to pedestrians. We have had instances recently of pesestrians being struck by cyclists who have failed to cycle with sufficient care and attention.

    I am trying to get this message over to the cycling community and the fact that you used the term “thundered” over the bridge might infer to other cyclists that the walkway can be used to cross at speed which is not the case.

    We are more than happy that the numbers of cyclists using the bridge has increased however care is needed when using the walkway.

    Iain Mackinnon
    Tay Road Bridge

  2. Apologies for the dramatic prose!.

    I’m in total agreement about respecting other users of any shared facility. In our defence we were crossing pretty early in the day and their were no pedestrians using the walkway at the time of our crossing (I can’t speak for others on our ride as we split into smaller groups), and for audaxers ‘thundering’ is relative (none of us are likely to be challenging the Tour de France any time soon :))

    You have a good facility there. The entrances from the south are well signposts, well graded and no nasty sharp corners for cyclists to negotiate or for us to suprise pedestrians when we appear. And the surface over the bridge is good and smooth, and being central we aren’t buffeted by the wind as badly as on other bridges. The only slight niggle was the lift at the north end, it was quite cosy with 3 bikes in there and took a little bit of shuffling.

    So, I’d like to recommend the Tay Bridge for cycle crossings, and echo your concerns over the inconsiderate minority of cyclists who cause problems.

  3. Thanks for that – as ever it is the minority that causes problems for the majority. We installed a reflective cladding at the south end of the bridge at the underpass to try and improve lighting and visiblity for pedestrians and cyclists alike as there had been a few “near misses”.

    In addition to the lift there are stairs that a lot of cyclists prefer to use and carry their bikes down. The bridge is well used by cyclists and pedestrians and I am keen to ensure that both sets of users are safe when on the bridge.

    I hope you enjoyed your visit north of the Border and can sympathise about the midges – absolutely vicious! Luckily they aren’t prevalent here on the east coast.

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